Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samuel Johnson was wrong

I've been travelling a lot for work lately and, last week, I was in London for a couple of days working in a trendy hotel which had lots of quotes around the wall and no visible reception desk (I appreciate it makes the foyer look larger but why on earth do away with a reception desk?  A couple of folks in suits perched at a table tapping away on their laptop could be anyone. Would you like me to go around pestering all of your guests until I find the one who happens to be on reception duties or simply hang around looking lost until someone takes pity on me?  But I digress...)

The quote which dominated the wall in the dining area was this "Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" - well known words from Samuel Johnson.  He was speaking to his biographer James Boswell, trying to convince him that he wouldn't miss his native Scotland if he moved to the big smoke, but I couldn't help thinking that however leaned the man may have been, he definitely got it wrong with this one.  London is lovely in so many ways but it definitely doesn't have dibs on "all that life can afford" - for starters here are just a few of the things which Cumbria has that London doesn't.


London has plenty of places named hill but no real, proper, hills.  Primrose Hill is 65m high, Notting Hill isn't even a hill (it's only 36m above sea level) and the highest point in London, Betsom's Hill, is only 215m high and surely only counts as being "in London" on a technicality.  And, have you noticed how so many place names in London (and other cities for that matter), have retained the name of the thing which was flattened in order to make way for whatever is now built on top of them?  Places like Waltham Forest (although there are still a few small parks left), St Martin-in-the-Fields (which is on a busy junction right next to Trafalgar Square and miles from the nearest fields) and Wood Green which, despite having been both woodland and a large green space in the past, is now a "...busy urban activity centre with sizeable shopping area..."  I'm guessing updating those names would be bad for business; "St Martin-in-the-middle-of-a-crossroads" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So, Mr Johnson, London definitely appears to be lacking hills; the soaring peaks of the central Lake District, the comfortable familiarity of the Langdale Pikes and the gorgeous rolling hills around the Duddon Valley for starters...

View from Great Gable

Langdale Pikes

Orrest Head

Duddon Valley


There may be a few small lakes in London but anything you can walk around in under an hour without getting your boots muddy doesn't really count in my book.  Up here we have so many lakes they named an entire national park after them "The LAKE District" - in fact they are SO fab that we even got UNESCO World Heritage Status - tell that to Mr Boswell next time you see him.  As a comparison the Serpentine in London covers an area of 16 hectrares while Elterwater, the smallest "lake" in the Lake District, covers 17 hectares.  We are also home to the largest and the deepest lakes in England - Windermere and Wastwater respectively.



When I'm away in London on my travels, this is the thing I miss the most.  There is nowhere in London where I can find true peace and quiet - granted there are some lovely parks and quiet back streets, but at no point can I escape the distant hum of cars or take a deep breath knowing that there is no-one else for miles around.  To be fair, back in 1777, when Samuel Johnson muttered his now infamous words to his friend and biographer James Boswell, London probably did have a lot of really quiet corners (Wood Green was probably still woody and greeny for a start) - but these days it's hard to find true peace there.

Of course on a busy bank holiday it can be hard to find true peace in Cumbria too, but there are still plenty of quiet nooks where you can escape the crowds and the drone of the motor engine and enjoy the tranquillity and solitude that is so hard to find in London.

The Eden Valley

Smardale Gill

Black Combe

Unlike Samuel Johnson, people are not going to be quoting our books in 250 years time but, then again, you never know!  They are full of fab photos and fun facts and we are happy to ship directly and cut out the Amazon middle man.  Click the pic to find out more & order yours.  😀

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Saturday, 10 March 2018

What's in a name?

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle around here over the past week or so on account of the fact that two of our local radio stations have been swallowed up by a big corporation and have consequently changed their names.  The Bay is now Heart and Lakeland Radio is now Smooth.  I'm pretty sad about it to be honest as they just don't feel local anymore.  When I was driving home up the M6 I used to get excited around about Preston as I jabbed at the radio dial trying to find The Bay to welcome me home - I can listen to Heart anywhere these days but I could only listen to The Bay at home.  It got me thinking about names and how important they are to us, so here are a few stories behind the names of local landmarks which we've discovered as we've researched our books.

Scafell Pike

Heading out to Scafell Pike
It's more the pronunciation of this which causes the problem with most folks either in the Scawfell or Scarfell camps, though there are plenty of Scaffel fans too.  The original name comes from ancient Norse and translates as "Bald Summit" and for our 50 Gems of Cumbria book we tracked down a couple of experts in ancient Norse to hear how it should be pronounced - but if you want to know what
they had to say then you'll have to read the book!  What I can tell you is that up until the 1800's the term "Scawfell" (as it was then written) referred to a collection of 4 peaks in the general area, including what is now known as Scafell Pike - although that name didn't really begin to catch on until the early 1900's.

Jenny Brown's Point

This is a popular spot near Silverdale with an equally popular story surrounding its name.  Local folklore tells us that it is named after a nanny who rescued the children in her charge from drowning at that spot.  Chances are this isn't the case and there's no evidence to back up the story,  What we do know is that in the 1600's a woman named Jenny Brown was named as a beneficiary in a will and lived in a house in the area, but it's still not clear why the point is named after her.  There's also a lot of debate as to what purpose the chimney served; Morecambe Bay Partnership are doing a lot of archaeological work to get to the bottom of that one and you can follow their updates here.


Bat Cave?
There are at least three Borrowdale's in Cumbria and probably more - the name means "valley with fort" so if you find a Borrowdale you'll most likely find the remains of a fort somewhere nearby.  We've written many times about "the other Borrowdale" just north of Kendal (Kendal = Kent Dale) which has the remains of a Roman fort buried under a field at the far end of the valley.  It is a beautifully deserted place to walk just about any time of the year although I have my suspicions that the Bat Cave may be nearby...

Haggs Wood

The "Kirk" in Kirkby Lonsdale
There are a lot of Haggs in Cumbria, and I'm not being rude.  A "hagg" or "hag" was the name given to a bunch of fodder, typically holly, which was fed to sheep over the winter.  Apparently if you take the branches higher up they're not so prickly and the sheep don't mind them.  The word "holly" often evolved into "Hollins" and explains the number of "Hollins Farms" in the region.


Not surprising that there's loads of these too as it means "village with a church" - Kirkby Lonsdale, Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby-in-Furness (Furness means "rump shaped headland" so now you know!)  Kirk is the "church" part and Kirkstone Pass got its name from a large stone towards the top which looks like a church steeple are you approach - you'll probably need to drive over 2 or 3 times before you spot the stone but once you spot it, it's easy to see how it got its name.

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